Legislative Lowlights: Backroom Dealing Gives Pennsylvania Anti-Choice Measure a Boost

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Roundups Law and Policy

Legislative Lowlights: Backroom Dealing Gives Pennsylvania Anti-Choice Measure a Boost

Brie Shea

Several states will wrap up their legislative sessions by the end of the month—but anti-choice lawmakers haven't given up quite yet on measures to restrict reproductive rights.

Rewire.News tracks anti-choice and anti-LGBTQ legislation as it works its way through the states. Here’s an overview of bills we’re watching.

Sneaky backroom maneuvering advanced a Down syndrome abortion ban in Pennsylvania, Republican lawmakers in Michigan found a new way to attack vaccines and fetal tissue research, and lawmakers in Delaware seem to think pregnant people can’t make informed decisions when it comes to abortion unless they see and hear from the fetus first.


The state senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday advanced HB 2050, a bill that would ban abortion care solely due to a prenatal diagnosis of, or belief that the fetus has, Down syndrome. The legislation passed the house in April by a 139-56 vote.

The bill, which had languished in committee, was revived this week after its sponsor, state house Speaker Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny)attached his proposal to a human-trafficking bill sponsored by state senate Judiciary Committee Chair Stewart J. Greenleaf (R-Montgomery). The amendment threatened to derail the human-trafficking bill, which appeared on track to pass and be signed by Gov. Tom Wolf (D). Once Greenleaf pushed forward Turzai’s bill from committee, Turzai removed his amendment from Greenleaf’s human-trafficking bill. Regardless of the backroom politics, even if the senate votes to pass the abortion ban, it most likely won’t become law. The governor is expected to veto the measure, and a similar law in Ohio was recently ruled unconstitutional.

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State senate Republicans last week introduced legislation requiring so-called informed consent for vaccinations containing aborted fetal tissue. When providing vaccines, health-care providers would be required to notify patients if the immunizing agent is derived from aborted fetal tissue, and if available, offer an alternative vaccine which is not derived from aborted fetal tissue.

The bill, SB 1055, defines “immunizing agent derived from aborted fetal tissue” to mean:

An immunizing agent that is manufactured using a human fetal or embryonic cell line, protein, deoxyribonucleic acid, recombinant deoxyribonucleic acid, monoclonal antibody, or any other component derived from an elective abortion or using a cell line derived from the tissue of a fetus that was electively aborted.

Right to Life of Michigan, an anti-choice organization and proponent of the bill, maintains its own list of vaccines it describes as “abortion-tainted.” The vaccines in question were legally derived from human fetal lung cell lines in the 1960s. This bill is the latest attempt by anti-choice forces to co-opt anti-vaccination tactics in order to attack fetal tissue research.


Over the weekend, state senate Republicans introduced the “Women’s Ultrasound Right to Know Act” (SB 240). The bill would require a physician to offer a patient ultrasound imaging and the opportunity to listen to a fetal heart tone before terminating a pregnancy, except in the case of an emergency. A physician who fails to offer these services would be guilty of a class A misdemeanor and be subject to civil malpractice and professional disciplinary action. The pregnant person would not be required to actually view the ultrasound or listen to the heartbeat. The bill is based on copycat legislation drafted by Americans United for Life (AUL), an anti-choice legislation mill. The bill was assigned to the state senate Sunset Committee and is awaiting consideration.

The state senate Health Committee on Wednesday held a hearing to consider SB 205, a bill banning abortion at 20 weeks. In yet another example of copycat legislation, this time drafted by the National Right to Life Committee, the bill uses junk science to claim a fetus is capable of feeling pain at 20 weeks (it isn’t). Not only are 20-week abortion bans based on false information, they’re also unconstitutional, so it’s a good thing the bill failed to advance out of committee.

Looking Ahead…

Several states will wrap up their legislative sessions by the end of the month. Delaware, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Rhode Island, and South Carolina are all expected to conclude their regular or special legislative sessions by July 1. In addition to Delaware’s ultrasound bill, another bill to keep an eye on is South Carolina’s budget bill.

While South Carolina’s regular legislative session ended in early May, at least two special sessions were scheduled: one at the end of May and one at the end of June. As Rewire.News mentioned last month, the budget bill contains a provision that would allow child-placement agencies to refuse to provide services that conflict with a “sincerely-held religious belief or moral conviction.” If the budget bill passes with the provision still in place, South Carolina would become the tenth state to allow child-placement agencies to discriminate against same-sex couples or LGBTQ individuals looking to adopt.